Srinagar: In a significant move to promote public health and wellness, the Amarnath Yatra 2023, one of the largest yatras held annually in Kashmir, has been declared a tobacco-free event.
The decision, made under the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP), aims at safeguarding the well-being of around one million Yatris participating in the pilgrimage each year.
Citing the provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA-2003), the Director of Health Services Kashmir, Mushtaq Ahmad Rather in an order of the Directorate of Health Services Kashmir (DHSK) stated that tobacco use at public events has been unequivocally banned.
"This prohibition extends to the sale of tobacco products at all stations along the yatra route, emphasizing the commitment to create a tobacco-free environment throughout the journey," the DHSK order reads.
To ensure successful implementation, the DHSK has ensured to provide extensive support through the district Tobacco Control Cells in Ganderbal and Anantnag and execute various activities aimed at making the Amarnath Yatra a "tobacco-free yatra".
The DHSK has decided to take several initiatives to promote awareness and assist the yatris in overcoming tobacco addiction.
These departments would install informative posters, banners, and other educational materials at strategically placed at important stations along the yatra route.
"These visually engaging materials will educate the yatris about the harmful effects of tobacco and encourage them to make healthy choices," an official said.
As per the order, the DHSK would create awareness and establish counseling camps at key points during the yatra, where trained professionals would provide awareness sessions and offer counseling to individuals seeking support in quitting tobacco.
"These camps will serve as a crucial platform for disseminating valuable information on the hazards of tobacco use and the available resources for cessation," a health official said.
Also, in recognition of the challenges faced by those attempting to quit tobacco, the authorities have ensured the availability of cessation facilities.
These facilities would provide necessary guidance, support, and resources to the yatris who wish to embark on their journey to a tobacco-free life.
The department would also ensure enforcement of COTPA-2003 under which strict enforcement of the regulations will be carried out throughout the Amarnath Yatra.
"Law enforcement agencies will collaborate with the health authorities to ensure compliance," the official said.
Meanwhile, a copy of the order has been sent to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) as well as the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) in Anantnag and Ganderbal districts, emphasising the importance of compliance with the tobacco-free directive.
"We expect that this collective effort will contribute to a healthier and safer pilgrimage for all participants," the health official said.
He said that declaration of Amarnath Yatra 2023 as a tobacco-free event marks a significant milestone in promoting public health and reducing the prevalence of tobacco-related diseases.